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San Franciscans, quick to complain about nearly anything, have been justifiably stoic about the surreally darkened skies above them for the last entire week. After all, a terrible tragedy has struck the area outside of Chico, Calif., with hundreds missing and presumed dead due to the fires there.
And yet it truly does feel like the end of times in the once-sparkling city, where the smoke has drifted south and west and refuses to go away. Schools are closed throughout the region Friday, and even the cable cars won’t roll. I walked a six-block stretch in downtown San Francisco Thursday and saw just a handful of people on the streets. Half wore face masks, as if it were Beijing. Weather forecasters say there might be no end in sight.
The gloom is spreading to the technology world. Facebook is on the defensive. Apple is doubted. Google is on edge. Cryptocurrencies are in free fall, bringing unintended consequences. Nvidia, the maker of super-fast semiconductors, said sales growth slowed due to a slowdown in purchase from “miners” who use their chips to generate the esoteric stuff, which no one particularly needs.
It’s enough to make anyone want to pack it in. That includes me, though only for a bit. I’m off next week. You’ll be in good hands from Monday through Wednesday with Aaron and others.
Happy early Thanksgiving to all.
Top of the heap. Fortune‘s Businessperson of the year is insurance exec and Progressive CEO Tricia Griffith, but many of the runner-ups come from tech world, including second place finisher Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware, followed by Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang in third place, and AMD CEO Lisa Su at number six.
Fallout Friday. Continued repercussions and news hit Facebook after the big New York Times expose. Facebook fired Definers, the PR firm that told reporters to investigate a link between George Soros and anti-Facebook activists. COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote her own post, denying some of the allegations. And Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch, who had planned to leave the company at the end of the year, will stay on into 2019 to help deal with the controversy.
Web browsing from space. Elon Musk’s SpaceX got permission from the Federal Communications Commission to launch (eventually) more than 7,000 satellites as part of its space-based Internet service called Starlink. That’s more than three times the total amount of satellites in current operation.
No keyboard needed. Continuing its difficult transition from hardware maker to software, Blackberry agreed to pay $1.4 billion for cybersecurity firm Cylance. The startup uses A.I. and machine learning to help companies block threats that haven’t been previously identified.
Play it loud. In the stock market, Sonos impressed and, as Adam mentioned, Nvidia disappointed. Sonos said its revenue increased 28% to $273 million while its net loss was only two cents per share, down from 26 cents a year ago. Both figures were better than analysts expected as 1.5 million households had a Sonos product installed, up 21%. Sonos shares jumped 20% in premarket trading on Friday. Speaking of speakers, research firm Canalys says the total market for smart speakers rose 137% in the third quarter to 19.7 million units sold. Nvidia was down 18% after reporting a revenue increase of less than 3% to $3.2 billion. “We thought we had done a better job managing the cryptocurrency dynamics,” CEO Jensen Huang said.
Do I look thinner? The kilogram is getting a redefinition. The International Bureau of Weights and Measures votes on Friday to define a kilo in relation to a natural phenomena, the way most other units in the metric system are defined. A meter is how far light travels in 1/299,792,458 of a second. A second is 9,192,631,770 times the period of transition of a caesium-133 atom. And now a kilogram will be set relative to Planck’s constant in a formula that’s too font-complex to render here, but check Physics World for the exact definition.
FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE
How Podcasts Became a Seductive—and Sometimes Slippery—Mode of Storytelling (The New Yorker)
In our frenetic age, audio narratives offer a rare opportunity for slow immersion. But this intimacy can become manipulative.
Quitting Instagram: She’s One of the Millions Disillusioned With Social Media. But She Also Helped Create It (Washington Post)
On the evening of Sept. 26, Bailey Richardson logged in to Instagram for the last time. “The time has come for me to delete my Instagram,” she wrote to her 20,000 followers, using her white pants as a canvas. “Thanks for all the kindnesses over the years.”
Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? (The Atlantic)
Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession.
From Gonzo Chef to World-Renowned Traveler: Remembering Anthony Bourdain’s Life Behind the Camera (Esquire)
He traveled to active war zones, he took part in native rituals, he got drunken tattoos from Iban tribesmen, he ate at the finest, most exclusive restaurants in the world, and drank blood fresh from a dead goat in the grasslands of Kenya. In one of his finest moments in his legendary career, he sat down with Barack Obama to eat noodles in Vietnam during the president’s historic visit to lift an arms embargo on the country.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
After artificial intelligence and the blockchain, the most hyped trend in tech may be the effort to develop a quantum computer. Such a device, based on concepts from quantum mechanics, could in theory perform many more calculations than today’s binary-based computers. IBM, Google, and many others are spending billions in the quantum computer race. Theoretical physicist Mikhail Dyakonov says it’s all a waste of money. In an essay for IEEE Spectrum, Dyakonov argues that “gargantuan technical challenges” may be too complex to solve.
Could we ever learn to control the more than 10300 continuously variable parameters defining the quantum state of such a system?
My answer is simple. No, never.
I believe that, appearances to the contrary, the quantum computing fervor is nearing its end. That’s because a few decades is the maximum lifetime of any big bubble in technology or science. After a certain period, too many unfulfilled promises have been made, and anyone who has been following the topic starts to get annoyed by further announcements of impending breakthroughs. What’s more, by that time all the tenured faculty positions in the field are already occupied. The proponents have grown older and less zealous, while the younger generation seeks something completely new and more likely to succeed.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Why the Price of Cable TV Stopped Going Up So Fast This Year By Aaron Pressman
Fortune’s Holiday Gift Guide: The Best Gifts for Everyone On Your List in 2018 By Kate Flaim and Chloe Lieske
Ford Plans a Self-Driving Service—But Tech Problems Still Loom By Erik Sherman
Japan’s New Cybersecurity Minister Has Never Used a Computer By Laura Stampler
BEFORE YOU GO
Debate about the greatest living artist can take many forms, but painter David Hockney captured certain bragging rights on Thursday night. His 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold at Christie’s for $90.3 million, the highest amount ever for a work by a living artist. Hockney far surpasses previous record holder Jeff Koons, whose Balloon Dog sculpture sold for $58.4 million in 2013.